By Arunima Fatepuhria
Grinnellians can see the Rev. Wendy Abrahamson all around town, wearing different hats as she takes on various roles in the community. Sunday mornings at 10:30 a.m., she can be found delivering sermons at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Other times, she can be found lobbying for gun safety as an Episcopal Church lobbyist in the Iowa General Assembly, fighting for the rights of indigenous tribes in the Standing Rock Movement or enjoying a cup of coffee at Saints Rest.
Born and raised in Minnesota, Abrahamson lived in New York and Washington D.C. before moving to Iowa 13 years ago and Grinnell four years ago. Since then, she has been the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in town and a well-known and leading figure on the Grinnell social justice front.
“For me, my faith is critically important,” Abrahamson said. She firmly believes in the idea of the peaceable kingdom, where everyone is treated equally. “It’s one thing to say that and pray for it, I also think that we have to work for it.”
Though churches are often engaged in community service through soup kitchens and other activities, for Abrahamson it comes down to the cause of the suffering itself. She feels that targeting legislation is the appropriate way to bring about any change and therefore is involved in social justice concerns in and around Grinnell.
The Standing Rock Movement and gun safety are two issues Abrahamson is passionate about.
“Issues where the holiness of a person is denied grab me,” she said. Abrahamson added that people have become more energized since the Trump administration came into power and are becoming increasingly aware that things they care deeply about are being threatened. For Abrahamson, the shooting in Texas on Sunday highlights how legislation is something that affects everyone on an individual level and is not just an abstract concern.
In addition to the church and activism, Abrahamson regularly participates in the town’s community theatre and directed her first play there this year. She frequents the many “fantastic cultural opportunities” the College offers and loves the MET Opera screenings and concerts in particular. She and her husband, Steve Carrol ’68, are big hockey fans and regularly go to Des Moines for Iowa Wild games. Abrahamson loves the outdoors and often drives to her family’s cabin in northern Minnesota, where she spends her time fishing. Once an avid runner, a surgery a while ago has prevented her from running as much as she used to. However, she continues to go to the Jacob Krumm Nature Preserve, five miles southwest of Grinnell, and likes boating and hiking there.
Abrahamson adores the town of Grinnell. “It’s one of the most beautiful parts of Iowa,” she said. She mentioned how intellectually curious and civically aware Grinnell residents are. “Everyone’s always doing stuff. … The community is very caring and invested.”
The town is much smaller than other places she has lived in but she does not mind it. The anonymity which she observed in her time in larger cities is removed and she believes that this motivates the people to be more involved in social and political matters.
“Here we go to church with each other, you go to a concert and you see people you’re working on an activist thing with. Saints Rest is like a big town’s meeting every day. It’s magical.”
Abrahamson said that it is very easy to assume that some political issues are unsolvable and feel overwhelmed and discouraged by the situation. However, her faith and intimate familiarity with Grinnellians in the tightly-knit community motivate her to continue doing what she does.
“It’s really encouraging and you know that you’re never working on any of these things alone. And it’s also humbling because none of us alone are responsible for any of these things. We have to work on it together. There are times when you just can’t muster up the energy but you know there are other people working on it.”
At the end of the day, for Abrahamson, everything comes down to her faith. Following the model of Jesus Christ and how he lived his life, she continues to be an active member of the Standing Rock movement and the fight for greater gun safety.
“Everyone is made in God’s own image. Everyone should be treated like they are a beautiful creation of God.”